Most bands can’t keep it up after a decade, let alone three. Try as they might (with the Viagra triumvirate of celebrity producers, trendy guests and song doctors), nothing can cure the sickness of flagging inspiration. The Cure, on the other hand, boasts a career of spirited reinvention. With a parade of bona fide hits, they’ve reached an echelon shared by the likes of U2 and R.E.M.: The Cure graduated from college rock to rock superstardom with integrity intact, and the band’s new album, 4:13 Dream, proves that they continuing to make worthwhile music into the 21st century.
While not offering anything wildly divergent or profoundly groundbreaking, 4:13 Dream trumps their 2004 eponymous album, which suffered from Ross Robinson’s heavy-handed production and a lack of fresh ideas. In contrast, the new album has a more nuanced sound and a wealth of interesting songs. Sonically it shares more in common with Wish, with bracing guitar-rock-oozing hooks. Some of Disintegration‘s dour mood seeps into the mix, but this is mostly a cheery affair—at least as cheery as the Cure can be.
With mostly uniform material, the boundless experimentation of the band’s mid-to-late-‘80s records is largely absent. The Cure seem content not to stray too far from their ‘90s alterna-rock persona, a commercially palatable hybrid of the band’s inherent yin and yang: gloom vs. glam. While Robert Smith sounds as disconsolate as always amid the swirling guitars of the album’s plodding opener, “Underneath the Stars,” he also declares his yearning lust in the dark, Prince pop of “Real Snow White,” groaning, “You’ve got what I want” and “You know what I need.” The former harks back to the glum majesty of Pornography while the latter recalls the glib pirouettes of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and the peppy and breezy “Only One” and “Perfect Boy” show off the band’s uncanny gift for folding desperate lyrics and morose sentiments into uplifting melodies and dance-inducing rhythms.
“Freakshow” is among 4:13 Dream‘s odder moments. At first sounding like white-boy funk, the song serves as a welcome break from the album’s more standard material. It also displays guitarist Porl Thompson as something of a secret weapon; with wild wah-wah-pedaled leads and a mountain of hulking open chords, he deserves credit for crafting much of the album’s compelling sound. The rest of the group isn’t lunching: Simon Gallup offers some the meatiest basslines heard since Pornography, as on the thrilling “Switch” and the sullen “This. Here and Now. With You,” while drummer Jason Cooper lavishes the songs in dynamics perhaps not heard from any other Cure drummer.
Yet Smith has always been nestled at the heart of the Cure. His voice, that sepulchral howl that at its most hopelessly earnest sounds like the sighs of an angel or the last gasps of a vampire, is the central feature and has never sounded better. He stretches himself to the limit with the rapid-fire vocal volley of “Hungry Ghost” and mines the usual existential depths everywhere else. AutoTune can’t generate pipes like these and the fact that a man pushing 50 can still belt it out this effortlessly is the reason why the Cure continues creating compelling music while most of their peers went limp long ago.